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*California: "More special needs students"; costs have gone up; general student pop. down

Feb 1, 2018, Voice of San Diego: Special Education Costs Are Rising, But Money From State and Feds Isn't—Skyrocketing Special Ed Costs Join Pensions as District Budget Busters Add special education costs to the list of things crippling California school district finances. State and federal funds for students with disabilities aren’t keeping up with districts’ increased special education costs, leading districts to put increasing amounts of their general fund towards those services. At San Diego Unified, the amount of local funds contributed to special education increased nearly 65 percent between the 2012-2013 school year and the 2016-2017 year. San Marcos Unified’s local revenue contribution during that time has increased by 67.5 percent. Oceanside Unified said its special education expenditures are rising at the same rate as pensions and healthcare costs. That increase is happening at a rate of about $5 million per year. Poway’s contribution has nearly doubled – a 98 percent increase. Oceanside Unified’s general fund contribution has more than doubled, seeing a roughly 137 percent increase. Grossmont Union saw a nearly 110 percent increase over the past five years. Chula Vista Elementary’s local revenue contribution has also more than doubled at a roughly 103 percent increase. Sweetwater Union and Vista Unified have seen the steepest increase of nearly 160 percent, from 2012-2013 to 2016-2017. Those skyrocketing costs mirror a trend around the state. In the 2005-2006 academic year, California schools reported special education expenditures of roughly $8.5 billion. In 2015-16 that had grown to about $13.2 billion. That’s a 55 percent increase in 10 years. Both the number of students with disabilities and the average cost per special education student have been rising.... Some parents and staff say budget cuts left the district with a high number of vacancies in special education at San Diego Unified this academic year, leaving parents, principals and staff concerned for the safety of special education students. District officials floated the possibility of reducing up to $5 million in non-mandated special education spending in a budget survey sent out to parents and other stakeholders. At San Marcos Unified, district leadership says it is losing money every year and the three main culprits of its precarious fiscal situation are pensions, healthcare and special education. “We want to provide the best special education services that we can because we know that these children deserve it,” said San Marcos Board Trustee Randy Walton. Walton said the gap between what the state and federal government give San Marcos Unified for special education and what the district needs to spend accounts for more than 10 percent of the district’s entire budget. Not only are there more special needs students, the cost of educating each one has gone up. However, state funding for special education has been falling, dropping from a peak of $3.8 billion in 2007 to $3.2 billion in 2014. On a per-student basis, special education funding fell from $4,900 to $4,478 in inflation-adjusted dollars in that time period, according to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California. These costs are averages and in special education, there is a wide disparity on what is spent on each child. Providing services to a child who can mostly be in a general education classroom, but needs an hour or two of special services like speech therapy, costs closer to what it costs to educate a student without a disability. But there are rare cases where school districts will pay upwards of $100,000 a year for students with more severe disabilities to be in residential programs out of state because that is the only thing that can serve that child’s needs. Poway Unified estimates it costs about twice the amount on average to educate and provide services for a student with disabilities than a general education student. Oceanside Unified said a special education student costs an average of $6,500 more than a student without a disability. At Oceanside, between the 2012-2013 and 2016-2017 academic years, per-student spending for special education rose by nearly 35 percent. Grossmont Union saw a nearly 25 percent increase. Sweetwater has had a roughly 31 percent increase and Chula Vista Elementary, a 33.5 percent increase. San Marcos Unified and Vista Unified saw the biggest surges of 42 percent and 45 percent respectively, both from around $11,000 per student in 2012-2013 to more than $16,000 in 2016-2017.... While general enrollment at most districts in the state has been declining, the number of students with disabilities has increased statewide by roughly eight percent between the 2005-06 academic year and 2015-16, Anderson said. Excluding the students with the most common – and typically, less severe – disabilities, which include speech impairments and a category called “specific learning disabilities” that includes conditions like dyslexia, the number of children identified with all other disabilities increased by more than 50 percent between 2005-06 and 2015-16, Anderson said. More severe disabilities that districts are seeing more frequently, like autism, often require additional one-on-one aids, occupational therapists and other specialized positions. Anderson said statewide there has been increased employment in these types of jobs at school districts by about 20 percent between 2005

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